Rocco Palmo thought much of this address of the Holy Father to his brother bishops of Latin America. As I read through it, I found much worthy of reflection and, since it is posted here, commentary too.
We’ll take it in bites. It is not a long speech, but the partitions will hopefully spur discussion and reflection, as you wish.
Getting to the meat of the address, Pope Francis affirms the “pastoral legacy” and “method” of the Aparecida Conference of 2007. We are hip deep into an extended examination of that document. But moving to a wider view, exactly what is that legacy and method?
Four years ago, in Rio de Janeiro, I spoke to you about the pastoral legacy of Aparecida, the last synodal event of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean. I stressed the continuing need to learn from its method, marked in essence by the participation of the local Churches and attuned to God’s pilgrim people as they seek his humble face revealed in the Virgin fished from the waters. That method is also reflected in the continental mission, which is not meant to be a collection of programs that fill agendas and waste precious energies.
This is not new stuff to Francis or to those who follow him. Local Churches and their experiences are vital. And we’re not speaking of human reactions to experiences–the warm feelings or the dire warnings. We’re also not speaking of agendas developed from textbooks or gurus. The direction of the Gospel mission is determined by those whom we encounter–it was how Jesus conducted his public ministry. He received all people. he listened to them. He drew out of them what it was they were seeking. Imagine if churchfolk were to encounter those in their lives with the question: what are you looking for?
WWJD is a slogan, but more than that: it is a measuring stick for us as persons and for our associations:
Instead, it is meant to place the mission of Jesus at the heart of the Church, making it the criterion for measuring the effectiveness of her structures, the results of her labors, the fruitfulness of her ministers and the joy they awaken. For without joy, we attract no one.
It’s an over-used remark from early in my pastoral music experience, but the person who spoke of singing to God in liturgy, “If you are praising God, please inform your face.”
I went on to mention the ever-present temptations of making the Gospel an ideology, ecclesial functionalism and clericalism. At stake is the salvation that Christ brings us, which has to touch the hearts of men and women by its power and appealing to their freedom, inviting them to a permanent exodus from themselves and their self-absorption, towards fellowship with God and with our brothers and sisters.
This is important. The temptations listed are constructs of the mind, and align quite well with the worst of the Enlightenment excesses. They do not touch hearts, and have often confused our wording on such matters. (Think about how often we say or hear, “I feel this is …” when what we really mean is “I think this is …” If you are unsure about your usage, consider a frequently-heard statement, “I feel you aren’t hearing what I’m saying.” If you can substitute “think” for “feel” in most any sentence, you are really operating in the mind, not the heart.)
What the Holy Father seems to be urging is to aim at the human heart, not the mind. The mind is liable to over-thought, to self-absorption, to selfishness. In touching the heart, people are open to a deeper communion with the Lord and with others on the journey.